Power

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Chapter Three

Light seared from a man’s hands, vibrant enough to blind a person if they weren’t all wearing protective goggles at the front. Jaya spun back to stare at the wall while the assailant screamed something incoherent, his face meeting with the floor.

“Sorry ’bout that!” one of the desk sergeants called, his hands buckling the cuffs on tighter. “Bugger slipped right out of the restraints.”

“You’re one of ’em! The dark ones!” the lamper shouted as he was hauled up to his feet. Half of his face was bright red from where it struck the cheap linoleum, his eyes wide in panic.

“Yes, yes, we’re all part of some secret lizard cabal bent on eating your brains,” the sergeant muttered while dragging the man back.

Sliding towards the front of the waiting room, Jaya glanced down at Officer LaCroix working the desk. “Hey, Sarah,” she greeted, dropping her pad and scanner into the compartment. They’d both have their data copied and be cleaned of any lingering contaminants from out near the scar.

“Foster,” she smiled, looking like the girl one would expect to find on a fast food sign. Her blonde hair had just enough curl to be considered beachy, and she sported a dash of freckles that made her seem approachable but not too backwater. The proverbial girl next door with a gem shaped like a star and the hue of champagne. It was no wonder she was allowed to work the front desk of the station despite barely skirting to a 3.

“Figured you’d be popping on in,” Sarah chuckled while finishing up the data collection.

“Thought a walk would do me good,” Jaya admitted. There were enough gaters in the city force she didn’t stand out for her SK classification.

“All the way from the scar? Are you training for a marathon or something?” she laughed again, then jerked her pointy chin at the thermos in Jaya’s hands. “Need me to scrub that too?”

“Nah, it should be fine. I wasn’t there long.”

“Lucky…” She looked about to launch into some old story about her time early on when she was forced to patrol near the scar, gazing out past the desolation. As if Jaya hadn’t heard the same stories a dozen times before, or that they all worked out there at one point. But Sarah reined it in and smiled, “All done. Oh, and the Chief was looking for you.”

Jaya blinked at that. While she was technically under Chief Avery, in reality she answered more to the state — which was then headed by a committee that wanted her to do the job of ten people while being paid as if she was half of one. Please not another round of budget cuts, her department was already nothing. There was no more blood to squeeze out. What they needed was a good murder, maybe a series of robberies near the depot to scare the politicians into action. It wasn’t as if they could fully get rid of her, no matter how hard they tried to compress her down to an atom.

Her equipment popped out and Jaya collected it. “Thanks, LaCroix,” she waved at the woman while stepping through the door back into the heart of the department. People crowded around someone’s desk, she couldn’t make out whose through the sea of heads and hair, but there was a lot of grunting and groaning. Either it was an arm wrestling contest, a food eating challenge, or someone was giving birth on a police desk. Paying it no heed, Jaya continued on back through the building towards the elevator.

As she turned in it, prepared to press the button, a round of cries both triumphant and upset erupted. A compressed weight with a mass of over 100 kilograms tumbled to the ground, unmovable save by the two teles fighting it out. The wrestling challenge, of course. No one bothered to glance over at the detective slipping up to the second floor; they rarely saw her.

The second floor was the nicest section of the station, with ceiling to floor windows overlooking an obscured view of the harbor and no shit smeared on the walls from perps being drug through. It was where the real detectives were housed. Most had two, sometimes even three walls to their offices, all plucking at data to try and stave off boredom until lunch. Jaya nodded at the handful, then caught Fish’s eye. He was back quick from the job.

Ah crap, was that it? Of course, Fish went and complained to the Chief about that upstart detective failing to know her place. Now she was going to get berated for a few hours about refusing to stay in her lane. Great going, Foster. Way to really stay on people’s good sides.

Jaya chuckled at that thought. When was she ever capable of that?

Accepting her fate, she lifted her hand to the Chief’s pristine glass door and knocked with her gloved knuckles. When he shouted for her to enter, Jaya pushed open the handle and tried to step confidently through as if she was unaware of her fuck up. Chief Avery was hunched over his desk, his head tipped down while he scoured over pictures embedded into the glass of the desk. Touching one, he tried to stretch the image larger, but it pixelated beyond use.

“Ugh, I knew the tech guys were full of shit,” he groaned, sliding back in his chair. Running a hand through his tight cropped hair, bright blue eyes darted up to the woman circling the entrance of his office. “Ah, Foster, take a chair,” he gestured to the one before him.

Avery wasn’t the typical police chief they liked to toss into old movies. If he raised his voice it was rare and usually because someone was in mortal danger. He was calm, friendly, and most of all charming in a ‘let’s have a beer together’ sort of way.

“LaCroix said you wanted to see me?” Jaya began, carefully sitting down and glancing across the upside down images. Even grainy and in black and white she could spot a dead body tossed forgotten upon what was probably a back alley. “Sir,” she began first, “if this is about me taking an initiative on the…”

“What? No, that was good work. Stayed within the bounds of what the state pays to host you, and Fish got some fresh amps to feed back to his undercovers working the low market. All in all, great con to pull on the purse strings,” he smiled wide at her. Jaya should have felt relieved but confusion was all that could replace her trepidation.

“Then why…?”

“This,” he spun the image around to face her and shrunk it back to being a camera’s eye view of a back alley that could be anywhere in the city. “Dead body, found outside the Stretcher district this morning.”

“Vagrant?” Jaya staggered up, noting the fact the man was wearing what looked like two different shirts — one ripped at the front — and a coat. She blinked at the assumption and glanced down at her own piled on attire as if she too usually wore half her closet for fear of someone stealing it. “Or a gater?”

“First guess was right; not much to think of at first. They die off like flies when the scar snaps, but the thing was calm the past week. Here, this is the part that’s really got people spooked.” Avery waved over a new picture, this one in color of the dead man taken by the onsite cleanup crew. He sported a patchy beard that was probably infested with all manner of insect, but what caught Jaya’s breath was the look on his face. A smile as wide as if he’d heard the best joke ever told or eaten the warmest slice of pie graced his lips.

“He died happy?”

“Without a mark on him. The ghoul’s running tests to see if there’s something her scans missed but we can’t figure it out. No heart attack, no stroke, not even a trace of drugs in his system. It’s like one second he was fine, and the next dead with a smile on his lips.”

Jaya twisted the image around trying to get a sense of different angles. He wore a hat with a wide brim. To help keep the rain out? It hadn’t even tumbled off when he fell over dead, or…did someone place it back upon his head? “I assume there’s no video footage of this unexplained murder in action.”

“Nope, feed cuts out. Could be tampering, but it’s in a shit part of town. Most cameras there are fakes, it’s amazing we got this at all.” The Chief leaned further over the desk, his fingers tenting together in thought. It was a megalomanic move the man did out of habit and not cruelty, but it would often startle the younger officers. Of course the hardened detectives encouraged the rumors of the dragon-like boss.

Blinking, Jaya sat back in her chair. “Sir, why are you showing this to me?” There were a good dozen homicide detectives in the city — two of which she knew were sitting right outside that door jabbing at their screens in boredom.

“Because,” he sighed, “if Doctor Nadeson doesn’t find anything, and my gut’s telling me she won’t, the only other explanation is we got a Blue moving through our streets. A Blue that’s at level 5 or greater.”

Jaya swallowed hard, her eyes whipping back down to the dead man. She tried to run back through all her research on the SK categories of Blues, but there weren’t any she knew of that could kill without a trace. Lightning left burn marks, fire the same. The ones that enveloped in darkness left no mark, but they couldn’t directly kill with it, same as the lampers here.

“Judging by that look on your face, you’re coming up as empty as I did,” Avery sighed. He jerked his head towards a binder perched on his desk. It was a sky blue with the stamp of the Department of Intragation upon the cover. In theory, that knowledge was available to any on the golden side who requested it. The fact no one save the few in charge of handling the travel of outsiders knew that let them keep their secret sharing to a minimum.

“Let me look into it,” Jaya said. A Blue, a blue sneaking around in their city that was also strong enough to kill. It was impossible to think the sensors would miss anyone above a 3, never mind a 5, but nothing was impregnable. If there was a gap in the system and she was the one to plug it, maybe they’d finally take her seriously.

“I hoped you’d say that. I’ll keep the other two on the look out, but they’re swamped with that mill fire. Arson. We get so concerned keeping the SKs in check we forget that people can kill with their bare hands when they feel the need.” Chief Avery waved his hands over the desk, collapsing all the images away and leaving behind a lovely beach view from probably his honeymoon. “I’ll send you what we have. Check in with the ghoul when you get a chance.”

“Got it, boss,” Jaya tipped her head in acknowledgment and rose up. A thousand thoughts rattled through her mind, each one scrolling back to her old days in training.

As she reached the door, Avery shouted out, “Oh, and Foster, don’t go charging in all calvary if you get a lead. Lone wolf’s have a nasty habit of dying quick.”

She blanched a moment, then glanced back at him. “Yes, Sir,” Jaya mumbled before sliding out to find her office. Stretching her hand, she glanced down at the bulge under the skin of her wrist. A level 5, another level 5 somehow operating here without any tags on him or her? The idea both repulsed and fascinated her at the same time.

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